A side: The Whitlams and me

23 Mar

The Whitlams’ “No Aphrodisiac like Loneliness” from their album “The Eternal Nightcap” is my Barthes-like “punctum” for our Australian life. Hearing the song takes me back immediately to a specific time and place that encapsulates my fondest memories of Canberra. It’s Australia Day (January 26), 1997, and we’re listening to Triple J’s Hottest 100 in our rented house in Narrabundah. This was the house with the grouchy sisters as landladies, but with the great garden in the back, filled with raspberry bushes and a fig tree. We had five chooks, including Clementine, my little spotted Staffordshire hen who had perfect little white eggs. They laid eggs all over the garden, and we would find little clutches of them weeks later behind some bush. The neighbor behind us had put up a mirror to distract the currawongs from bothering his garden; one of them was so fascinated by his reflection he would talk to it all day. George made his best pond in that backyard, and we had frogs that came from spawn captured on the Naas River up in Namadgi (we didn’t know we really weren’t supposed to do that! But the frogs thrived in our yard). The fig tree got fruit bats at night, and flocks of sulphur-crested cockatoos landed in the yard and started squawking at about 5 in the morning. We had magpies that would come to the back door to be fed, and a couple of them would sometimes lean up against the hot brick wall of the house in the summer, in a heat-induced stupor. The Narrabundah house is also the one where we actually had a full-grown kangaroo come into the carport one day; when I opened the door and saw him, he lazily hopped away down the street.

On that Australia Day, I had been sober for about two years, and still went back to Woden Valley Hospital’s detox unit for Living Sober nights. Max was 14 1/2, going to Narrabundah College and the International Baccalaureate program which he hated us having him do at the time, because he had to get up so early. He was really into Triple J then–he turned us on to The Whitlams–and after we listened to the Hottest 100, we tuned into our favorites, Roy & HG, for the most characteristically Aussie humor imaginable. I still miss those guys, whose repartee is nearly impossible to explain to a non-Australian. (And were they reporting on The Ashes Test that day? I can’t remember.)
And this song! So irreverent, but so romantic, too. Perfectly Australian in its poetic flippancy and sexy undertones.
The weather is hot, there’s a bit of a buzz in the air, because there will be fireworks–Aussies love their fireworks. A visit to Fyshwick Markets would have happened the day before, for good German deli products and a conversation with Tony the fruiterer, who would be yelling out “Up the Roos!” to support his Melbourne AFL team.
Very happy, very content, and with The Whitlams playing.

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